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Conference Calls Made Easy?

It’s been an exciting few days here in the Making Projects Work office – one day I came in only to find plaster all over my computer! A rare earthquake had hit the UK in the night and cracked open the ceiling.

Well, today, I’m hoping to start a bit of an earthquake myself – this time to shake up and improve telephone conference calls. More in a moment… and you can find out for yourself at http://www.conferencecallsmadeeasy.com.

See Us For Real!

You have quite a few chances to meet us in March and April, if you’re in London. Tim Mortimer is presenting to the IIBA on the 26th March and I’m presenting to the BCS on the 15th April. All the details are here:


Thank you very much to the people from EDS and Rolls-Royce who recommended me to Manchester University – as a result, I gave a keynote speech at their practitioners’ MSc course last month!

Conference Calls Made Easy – The Problem

Conference calls by telephone are a key tool for project people.

With teams distributed across the country and all around the world, it’s no longer feasible to meet face to face all the time. They offer the promise of quick and easy meetings, freeing up people from the time and expense of travel, but that’s often not the case.

In reality, far from being the solution to the problem, conference calls have become a drain on time and resources.

Some of the problems I hear about from project people include:

  • ‘No-one answers when I ask a question.’
  • The calls start late and go on far too long.
  • ‘Often we can hear people typing their e-mails, sometimes even snoring!’
  • Preparation just doesn’t get done.
  • ‘I don’t know who else is on the call or even what they look like!’
  • Actions just don’t get done, even when written up.

Conference calls can be frustrating, energy-draining and swallow up evenings as well as working days. There’s a funny piece on the horrors of these calls by Linda Jones from the UK’s Guardian newspaper last year. You can read it here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2007/apr/26/comment.guardianweeklytechnologysection

I experienced this frustration recently when I was asked to join a call. Most of the supposed participants had no idea it was taking place. They had been informed, but only on the last page of a Word attachment, sent by e-mail. So they didn’t turn up. In fact, even the organiser couldn’t make the call! You may laugh, but it happens more often that you might imagine. I hear that most calls over-run – no wonder people are sorely tempted to check their e-mails.

The main area of concern I hear about meetings from project managers is conference calls! But it doesn’t have to be this way.

I’m on a quest to improve the lot of project people and I’ve been working very hard to prepare a new product for you to tackle these calls. I’ve developed my own system over the years, running global projects and helping others to work remotely effectively. There’s more at http://www.conferencecallsmadeeasy.com, where I’m offering subscribers a bonus Master Class.

Here’s a quick taster of the product: It’s one of my three best ways you can engage people, so they can keep focussed on your call and NOT their e-mail:

Keeping People Engaged When They Can’t See Each Other

We know that conference calls often don’t work – people disengage so easily without the visual clues of body language and facial expressions.

So what can help here? You may know of my interest in the power of graphics and visuals. That aspect is completely missing in conference calls. So why not bring it back in – and you’ll find that this helps the engagement to go up. Well, Penny, I hear you say, HOW can we bring it back in? Are you talking about video conferences? Not necessarily. I co-wrote an article with Nancy Settle-Murphy of Guided Insights (http://www.guidedinsights.com/) late last year about many different ways to do this effectively. (Let me know if you’d like the full article.)

Here are a few useful suggestions you can try:

Build a picture map of the team for all to see:

Use an image of the country, continent or the entire world, wherever your people are based. Add in the different time zones.

Then paste photos of all of the call’s participants in their appropriate locations. (Ask people to send photos to you beforehand – that way, you know that you have their permission.) Attach the image to your meeting request so all can easily access it as they dial in. It makes such a difference to have visual clues as to who is on your call and where they are in the world – are they up early in the morning or trying to stay awake late at night? Everyone will know who should be on the call and what they look like.

Set the stage with a meeting map:

Anchor your meeting with an agreed-upon purpose, agenda and process. Sound obvious? Many teams gloss over this important step, inevitably leading to longer, less focused meetings. For virtual teams whose members don’t have benefit of a poster or flipchart, try sending a meeting start-up template in advance, and fill in the blanks as a team. If you’re short on time, you might send out a completed template subject to revision. You can create your own or use prepared graphical templates, like the Making Projects Work meeting start-up template.

Use the power of images for instant recall:

After meetings, especially virtual ones, it can be difficult to remember what happened! Use a mind map to visualise the key points.

Better still, draw up the mind map during the meeting with input from all and share it over the web.

In fact, with a little thought, virtual meetings can have a visual aspect. Try it and let me know how it goes. I’m sure you’ll find it helpful for keeping people with you.

So what are you going to do?

Take a moment to think about the conference calls you are involved in. Are they the best use of your valuable time? If not, how can you use the power of visuals to keep people engaged? Perhaps a picture map or a start up visual?

Please do feel free to join me for the bonus Master Class on 11th March. If you can’t make the call, still register and you’ll be able to listen to it at your convenience. Register here: http://www.conferencecallsmadeeasy.com

Please help me – and learn other people’s experiences

Help me to understand your conference call issues. Would you spend two minutes on our survey? If you leave your e-mail, we’ll send you the final, overall results.

Please click and take our survey here:


Thank you for helping!


PS There is no special booklist for this month’s topic, as I don’t know of any really good books on conference calls! However, for a host of great books around Making Projects Work, have a look here: http://astore.amazon.co.uk/wwwmakingproj-21

The Making Projects Work Newsletter:

The newsletter comes out every three or four weeks. If this isn’t your own copy, sign up now at –> http://www.makingprojectswork.co.uk.

When I write it, I aim to to give you proven ideas and tools to try out on your projects, all in under four minutes reading time.

Would this newsletter help your colleagues?

If so, please let them know about it! They can join by signing up at http://www.makingprojectswork.co.uk.

They’ll receive my bonus report as well: “12 1/2 ways to make your meetings work for you”. I keep hearing how it has helped people make their meetings and workshops more effective (and usually a bit shorter too!)

© 2008 Making Projects Work Ltd., All rights reserved. You are free to use material from this Making Projects Work newsletter in whole or in part, as long as you include this attribution, including a live web site link. Please also notify me where the material will appear.

“By Penny Pullan of Making Projects Work Ltd. Please visit our web site at www.makingprojectswork.co.uk.”